Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Why don’t old-time Aspenites like the X Games? The question presupposes that all Aspenites who remember where they were the night La Cocina closed bear a grudge against cigarette-smoking teenagers and ESPN. And that’s not fair.
On the other hand, I’m sure many locals who habitually tap the Sportscenter app wouldn’t mind if the games packed their 18-wheelers and found a map to Vail. It’s not that they “don’t get the event” or that they fail to understand the economic boost we reap, either. Rather, the recoil from the manufactured culture of the games is a reflex stemming from locals’ desire to protect what Aspen is really about.
It’s easy to pigeonhole an Aspenite who doesn’t care for the X Games as a fogy with low tolerance for increased traffic congestion; stores and restaurants crowded with kids who don’t spend money; and frequent displays of public intoxication, profanity and fighting. And even for people who don’t like the games, all this is exciting.
But therein lies the problem. Celebrating these things that Aspenites normally abhor creates internal conflict. It’s not who we are. To take the games on in order to satisfy mere curiosity while making money makes our town feel like an alpine version of Las Vegas, replete with gigantic piles of artificial snow at the venue.
The evolution of a town is a process. It becomes what it is as people run their lives through it. With a steady ebb and flow, a community forms its identity. The X Games are not a part of that natural current.
The games come on like a tsunami. We act differently before they arrive and after they leave. For this long weekend, we are not ourselves. To wit: Are there many things more uncomfortable than watching middle-aged Aspen Skiing Co. execs trying to act cool on various stages around town? Yes, I’m picking on them. But the truth is that most of us don’t know what to do with our hands when the younger world is watching, either.
This is not to say that what Aspen has become apart from the X Games is perfect. Far from it. What it is, though, is an amalgamation of “us.” We, who have stayed in Aspen despite our complaints and consternation, have found that what it has become suits us.
What the X Games are is a grating influence from the outside, moreso than even our iconic fur coats, private jets and monster second homes. At least the people who bring these controversial trappings of their lives also bring their lives. We can deal with that. What ESPN brings once a year is something hatched in L.A. that will never, no matter how many contract extensions it signs with Skico, feel organic. We may be able to flip ESPN off, but we must do it with a remote control instead of our middle fingers. Our relationship is that impersonal.
Yes, it’s fun to see the town filled with young people again. It’s a few days of rowdy debauchery that we mostly vicariously participate in. But the crowds, the thrumming Mac-made music, even the “vibrancy” so missed in modern Aspen, all conveyed worldwide through a scripted image of Aspen, is the equivalent of a Chamber of Commerce-made one-night stand, with us the intoxicated floozy falling for cheesy come-ons.
The games want nothing to do with Aspen as a living community. This is just a place that could be replaced by any other snowy place willing to bend over forward to host them. We add no flavor to the event. It uses our good name and reputation to polish its image. Nothing about the television coverage shows the world who or what we are all about. Our personality, our intelligence and, yes, even our ironic sense of humor are irrelevant to this hook-up.
Far from easing the discomfort we feel over the games, money underscores our trepidation. We need the commerce. Nobody can blame us for taking the cash. Selling out is better than starving. Nonetheless, this justification doesn’t mean the games haven’t had their way with us.
Monday morning after the games, there is perhaps nothing that leaves the Aspenite feeling more vacant than driving by Buttermilk and seeing the bare, cold steel skeleton of X Games Village disassembled and ready for transport. ESPN sneaked out as we slept.
Thanks for the good time, Aspen. I’ll call you.
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